Leona O'Neill: Helping kids to deal with death through National Grief Awareness Week

Grieving during a pandemic has placed an unimaginable extra burden on those who have lost loved ones this year, particularly children. Leona O'Neill highlights Grief Awareness Week and one local funeral director attempting to make the grieving process easier for kids

The death of loved ones can be hard to explain to young children even under normal circumstances

THIS year has been a year like no other. Almost 1,000 people lost their lives to coronavirus here since March, and many others have died from other causes.

All of these people had to be buried without the usual traditions associated with the Irish wake and funeral, traditions that bring families together in mourning, to remember and heal. These rituals that help with acceptance and closure have been stripped from us all and most funerals this year have been very small gatherings with no music or song, where embracing and close comforting was considered dangerous.

Grieving during a pandemic has placed an unimaginable extra burden on those who have lost loved ones this year, particularly our younger generation, who may struggle to comprehend the process even in ordinary times.

This week is National Grief Awareness Week, a time to try and normalise grief and get people talking about this typically uncomfortable subject on a national platform. This annual national event is driven by The Good Grief Trust, the UK's leading umbrella charity, bringing all bereavement services, support organisations and helplines together under one central database.

Offering early signposting to a choice of support for both the bereaved and those working with them, their vision is to offer a toolkit of support from day one via the for anyone suffering a bereavement, anywhere in the country.

One Belfast funeral director has embraced the concept, this week launching a special interactive book of remembrance to answer questions the bereaved may have and allow them to gather special memories of their loved one.

Each page of the fully illustrated book helps the reader evoke memories of their loved one and encourages them to put pen to paper, to include photographs of people and places as reminders of happy times and explaining the meanings of words which might be unfamiliar to their ears.

Staff at James Brown & Sons Funeral Directors, who have branches across Northern Ireland, have witnessed first-hand the impact that these difficult circumstances are having on the next generation.

Faced with the enormity of losing siblings, parents, grandparents and pets, it is often difficult for children to express their grief or to understand what is happening in their family.

Andrew Neale of James Brown & Sons said it was their hope to offer some comfort with their interactive book of remembrance, which is aimed at answering some tough questions and helping children articulate special memories of the loved one they have lost.

He says: "Throughout this year, we have seen the upset and confusion on the faces of children attending funerals, who are not only trying to make sense of the death of a loved one but also the disruption to their daily lives due to the pandemic while the adults around them are trying to navigate their way through their own pain of loss in these most unusual of circumstances.

"Caring is at the very heart of our business and, since we cannot offer any physical comfort to the bereaved at this time, we want to reach out to offer support through the provision of these remembrance books, which we trust will be of some comfort and help to the little ones who maybe can't quite comprehend what is going on around them."

James Brown & Sons Funeral Directors have limited copies of this children's grief support book available. To request a copy, email

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